Scale Shocker: Kicking the Habit Packs on More Pounds Than You Think

Smokers quitting cigarettes are often warned by their doctors that they could pack on some pounds during the process. But the amount may be more than they bargained for—the average weight gain a year after quitting might be from about 8.8 to 11 pounds.

A study released online this week in the British Medical Journal analyzed 62 studies that included weight change among people quitting smoking. While the average in this study was higher than what many health experts have been quoting their patients, the variation in weight change was wide—after a year, 13 to 14 percent of study participants gained more than 22 pounds, and 16 to 21 percent actually lost weight. In other words, your results may vary.

But this new weight gain amount could turn some people off—especially women—to quitting altogether. A 1996 study in the Journal of Substance Abuse found that on average women were willing to gain five pounds if they quit smoking.

The results were similar among people who quit without using medication and those who used pharmacotherapy such as buproprion or nicotine replacement therapy. Most of the weight gain occurred during the first three months after quitting.

This news may heap more responsibility on physicians to determine if their patients are at higher risk for gaining weight while quitting. “In practice,” the authors wrote, “doctors could detect people gaining excessive weight and intervene early to prevent this.”

Excess weight can increase the risk for serious diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. But an accompanying editorial says the health repercussions from smoking outweigh the risks of gaining several pounds.

“Although obesity is positively associated with an increased risk of all cause mortality,” the authors wrote, “cohort studies indicate that modest weight gain does not increase the risk of death; smoking does.”

Need some motivation to quit? A recent study in Archives of Internal Medicine found even older people who quit smoking could live longer. Another study in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research found there may be a link between eating more fruits and vegetables and smoking less.

Has a fear of gaining weight stopped you from quitting smoking? Tell us about it in the comments.

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine